Pakistan carries too much unsavoury baggage and labels to be a Dialogue Partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Pakistan has long been considered as a terrorist sponsor. It is currently under watch from the international watchdog on terrorism financing, FATF. It hosts, according to Prime Minister Imran Khan, over 30,000 terrorists. It is home to the largest number of militants and terrorist entities proscribed by the UN, various international organisations and more than 100 countries.
A country which has become a synonym for terrorism can only prove to be an embarrassment and disruption for a grouping like ASEAN which faces more urgent challenges of an aggressive China and unprecedented fluidity in global economy.
What ASEAN members would do well to remember is that Pakistan has also been consistently labelled as the ‘most dangerous place’ in the world to be a journalist or a human rights activist. It has rarely been a free country for journalists or human rights activism. But it has become one of the worst under Prime Minister Khan.
Journalists, bloggers and human rights have been brutally killed, assaulted and threatened in large numbers under his captaincy of the country. In fact, his government’s agents have hunted down journalists and activists in other countries where they lived in asylum.
PKhan has adopted a more aggressive campaign against the media than his predecessors. He has gone after media companies and owners who refuse to kowtow to his diktat. His government disrupted the functioning of several media houses by ordering unwarranted raids on their offices, stopping their printing presses and blocking their supply lines. The owner of a powerful media house, the Jang Group, was hauled up on an old charge related to property.
Television companies that refused to tow the line of the Khan government or his patrons in Rawalpindi have been slapped with taxes, fines and allegations of misdemeanor at the drop of a hat. Even popular anchors like Hamid Mir have not been spared for speaking up against journalists getting assaulted inside their own homes. Several bloggers and human rights activists have disappeared in the past months, with accusing fingers pointing at the government and the military for running a brutal campaign to silence the people. Such a country deserves no place in a respectable organisation like ASEAN.
Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities and women, a large number of them Muslims, should also raise heckles among the ASEAN leadership. Pakistan has been punishing Ahmadis and Shias for long. Ahmadis, a minority sect among Muslims, are virtually slaves in Pakistan with no claim to normal citizenship rights like worship or voting. Shias for decades have been targeted by various extremist Sunni outfits, most of them flourishing under the patronage of the state. Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have rarely, if ever, fair and just treatment as citizens. Pakhtuns, Baloch and Sindhis, almost all of them Muslims, have been facing the state’s brutality for raising their voice for just treatment. Pakistan’s worsening human rights record and religious persecution have been highlighted by the US and European Union besides other countries.
With such an abysmal record in safeguarding the interest and life of its own citizens, Pakistan has proved to be a failing state, a factor which alone should nix any move to make it a member of ASEAN.